Saturday, January 31, 2015

New Orleans, LA vs. Yonkers, NY

It's Mardi Gras season
The first of the big parades is tonight: Krewe de Vieux, followed by Krewe Delusion.  We're not going this year even though they both pass by the end of our street.  There's no real reason.  Everyone who is staying with us will tell us about in the morning, after all.  Like many things we've done before, this time we'll live vicariously through our guests.  

Instead, we'll be going to the second line parade that is going through our neighborhood tomorrow afternoon.  Not that a second line parade has anything to do with Mardi Gras, but I don't want you to think that we just sit around the inn like shut-ins.  If none of this New Orleans-specific talk meant anything to you, don't worry--- that's the end of it for today.
Congratulations are in order 
We had our three year anniversary in September and it took me this long to buy Frau Schmitt a present.  We've been married longer than three years (it isn't germaine to this article to say for how long), but we're in our third year of business.  That sign is the first thing you'll see when you walk in the door.

Mardi Gras flowers
Every time I'm on Oak Street, uptown, I say it looks like another Magazine Street.  I say the same thing about Freret Street, which is also uptown.  Now, I like Magazine Street, who doesn't? but do we need three of them?  Apparently some people think we do.

I got to thinking about it the other day when I was reading the Wall Street Journal in the library at the New Orleans Athletic Club.  Yes, my gym has a library.  It also has a bar.  It also has a boxing ring.  I could take fencing lessons if I chose.  It's a wonderful place.  It costs a bit more than Anytime Fitness on St. Claude Avenue, but we feel it's worth it.  I can't read the Wall Street Journal in a leather armchair at Anytime Fitness.  What a life, I'll tell ya.

Anyhow, there was an article about what the best college town is.  The author made the case for Yonkers, NY, which is where my brother-in-law if from.  He's a stand up guy. 

I don't subscribe to the WSJ online because I can just read the paper at the gym, so I can't reread the article now.  The gist of it is that all the top ranked college towns are all the same---latte swilling hipster cities overflowing with craft cocktails and alternative music scenes, while Yonkers is more diverse and down to earth.  Yonkers is the opposite of hip (some would say).

New Orleans is like nowhere else.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.  We enjoy our neighborhood.  It isn't like any other in the city.  I'm not saying it's better or worse.  It's just different.  If you like that kind of thing, you'll probably like it here.

À votre santé,

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sweet Home New Orleans

The view out our window yesterday
Like our guests, we sometimes like to escape from our daily grind, such as it is.  Unlike you, we have company coming tomorrow so we couldn't travel too far.  We just got away for two nights before the busy season starts.  We're not going to have another day off until June.  I know, it makes you pity the life of an innkeeper.

Where do you go if you live in New Orleans, where everybody else in the world goes?  We went to Alabama.  It was as exciting as it sounds and that suited us just fine.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast, naturally.  We didn't know it when we made the reservation, but Trip Advisor ranks the B&B we stayed at as #2 in the whole country.  We can see why.  What a pleasant surprise.  Point Clear Cottages.  Now you know.

Talking to our fellow innkeeper this morning, he said he was very blessed in this life.  One of the blessings he counted was, "I've lived my whole life in Fairhope, Alabama."  I can't comment on the other things he listed, but I have to agree with that one.  What a gem of a town.  We didn't know anything about it before we arrived but after a visit to the local history museum, we sure know a lot about it now.  

In the past, people have asked us what there is to do in Mobile, AL.  Since we hadn't been there, all we could say is that we didn't know. We went yesterday.  We're still not sure what to do.  Instead of staying in Mobile, go down the east shore of the bay a spell and stay in Fairhope.  Stay at the Point Clear Cottages if you can.  There are only two cottages, so you have to book early.  Go during off season, which is anytime but summer.  You have a fair hope of reserving a spot in January.  The weather was gorgeous while we were there.  

Now that we're back home, Frau Schmitt and I were looking at one of the paintings in our lobby.  This one:
I love New Orleans
That painting says a mouthful.  You'll feel the same way after you've been in New Orleans awhile.  You'll want to be back.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Friday, January 23, 2015

New Statue in City Park, New Orleans

Happy Mardi Gras
There's a new statue in City Park, up the street from us.  Actually, there are two statues, but I think one of them is ugly and I can't make myself take a picture of it.  What is it about post-modern art, anyway?  Either you love it or you hate it.  I don't like the new sculpture that's been installed next to the art museum.  Some people call me an old fuddy duddy, though.

Of course, the newest sculpture you see is the one on the front lawn in front of the art museum.  Did I mention I'm not going to take a picture of the sculpture I think is ugly?  I don't mind saying it again.  You'll have to walk up there to see it for yourself.  The sculpture I like is a bit deeper in the park, by the Festival Grounds where they hold Voodoo Fest.  

It takes about twenty picturesque minutes to walk from our house to City Park to see the ugly statue that I didn't take a picture of.  It takes a bit longer to get to this one:
Iconic roses
It's a spray of roses that could have been cast by Cleas Oldenburg if they were painted differently.  Oldenburg was a Pop artist, not a post-modern one.  We can debate that last point if you choose, but I'm sticking with the assertion.

Everyone who sees the rose statue talks about it at breakfast.  Nobody talks about the other sculpture (I can't bring myself to call the other one a statue; it's just a gaudy thing). 

Look up close at the roses:
It could be a Febreze ad
It's made of painted stainless steel, Nida-Core, fiberglass and paint. That's what the plaque says.  It was made by William Ryman (b. 1969) and was made in 2011.  It's called "Icon."  That's as good a name as "Roses," I suppose.

If you go into the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) you'll see a gold log cabin that Ryman also made.  See what you think.  I have little to say about it.

I go to NOMA all the time.  They have a very good photorealist show in there right now.  They have a little bit of everything.  NOMA isn't MOMA by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a nice place to spend some time to see some really good art.  I find the permanent collection very interesting and enlightening.  If you go the third floor, you'll pretty much have the place to yourself.  It's full of African, Asian, and Polynesian art.

There are all sorts of things to see in New Orleans.  If you get bored here, it's your fault.  It's not the city's.  The city is a cornucopia that overflows with delights for all the senses.
A rose as tall as a tree
You'll see when you get here.  There is a genuine Claes Oldenburg statue in the sculpture garden behind NOMA.  It's of a giant safety pin.  I like that one, too.  It's almost as good as the Oldenburg in Minneapolis.  

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Grooviest B&B in New Orleans

Is this place really Squaresville?
Frau Schmitt and your humble narrator take their jobs of being New Orleans ambassadors seriously.  We try to know everything we can about the city we call home.  All the better to make recommendations, my dear.  

I was talking to Tammie the Housekeeper the other day.  It turns out that some of the B&B housekeepers in New Orleans meet for lunch every month.  This month they were at Jack Dempsey's, down in the Bywater.  
738 Poland Avenue, New Orleans, LA
I love Jack Dempsey's.  The walls are unfinished particle board.  The food is pretty good, too.
Tammie the Housekeeper
Tammie the Housekeeper was making the bed in La France Suite when she mentioned that La Belle Esplanade doesn't have a reputation for being the grooviest B&B in New Orleans.  "That's what Miriam LaRue said, anyway, and Lucille agreed with her."  I suppose it all depends on who you ask.

So what B&B is the grooviest in the whole city according to the informal poll taken at Jack Dempsey's Steak and Seafood House the other afternoon?  Tammie the Housekeeper didn't want to tell me but she finally relented after I had pestered her into the Clio Suite across the hall.  "They say it's the Lookout Inn," she finally said.  

Well, like their web address says, Look Out New Orleans.

I went over yesterday to spy on the competition and take some pictures:
The grooviest B&B in New Orleans
As I was snapping that photo above, Kelly, the innkeeper, was taking out the trash.  Caught in the act!  Luckily, we know each other and she invited Frau Schmitt and I over for dinner.  Nancy from Auld Sweet Olive came, too.  

After dinner, Kelly and Mark (her husband) gave us a tour of their inn.  Let me tell you, it's like a palace in there.  They have four suites: the Mission Suite, the Mardi Gras Suite, the Elvis Suite and the Bollywood Suite.  Did I mention the Mardi Gras Suite?  The whole place is pretty groovy, I have to admit, especially the Elvis and Bollywood Suites.  The Wall Street Journal mentioned them in an article a while ago.

The place is clean, too.  Even though it was January, the whole place smelled like April freshness.  Most B&Bs do.

Frau Schmitt and I talked about the Elvis Suite after we got home.  "I think La Belle Esplanade is groovy enough the way it is," Frau Schmitt said.  She is usually right about these things.  "That's what Tammie the Housekeeper said, too," I said.  "Tammie the Housekeeper also called me an old fuddy duddy," I added, "Imagine that!"

"Tammie says that about everybody who's over thirty.  Even herself and she's only 31," Frau Schmitt told me.
The pool at the Lookout Inn (a pool!!)
If you want to stay in the hottest neighborhood in New Orleans, the Bywater, here's a recommendation:  the Lookout Inn.  If you want to stay in the Marigny, here's a recommendation: Auld Sweet Olive.  If you want to stay in the West End, here's a recommendation: Rose Manor.  If you want to stay on Esplanade Avenue, well, look at the top of this blog.  No place in New Orleans is Squaresville.  That's not entirely true, of course.  Some places are, but we're not going to name them here.

Wherever you stay, you'll have a good time.  Good memories are made in New Orleans.

When I was taking pictures of the Lookout Inn, I asked if I could take a picture of Kelly.  She graciously agreed.  I was so nervous that that camera jiggled in my hands.  All I could capture was a snap of the top of her head.  Here it is:
It should be crowned with a tiara
À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Louis Moreau Gottschalk

L. M. Gottschalk
Interesting people tend to stay in B&Bs.  I don't mean to insinuate that only uninteresting people stay in chain hotels, only that there's a general rule that the people who choose to stay in a bed and breakfast tend to enjoy conversation on a variety of topics.  

One of the nicest things about being innkeepers is that we have the time to hold actual conversations with our guests.  If we ran a big hotel, we wouldn't have that opportunity.  A little small talk here and there, an exchange of pleasantries from time to time, a wish of bon voyage when people depart, but that's about all.  As innkeepers we get to dedicate an hour or two of every day, sometimes more, interacting with people on a personal level, mano á mano, which means hand-to-hand, not man to man. We learn as much from our guests as we hope they learn from us.

We recently had a couple from Virginia, of all delightful places, stay with us for a week.  They were big fans of Louis Moreau Gottschalk and went to find the house where he grew up.  Who is Louis Moreau Gottschalk?  He was a composer and virtuoso pianist.  Listen to the Fiesta Criolla, above, which he composed.  It's got a hint of the bamboula in it.

L. M. Gottschalk (Louie to his friends) always referred to himself as a native New Orleanian, which he was, though he spent much of his life abroad.  He was born in a house a little over a mile from ours, on the corner of Royal Street and Esplanade Avenue.  That house isn't standing anymore.  Ours is.  When I say that, it isn't to brag.  I only mean to say you can stay with us in the 2200 block of Esplanade Avenue if you choose to.

Not well remembered today, though famous in his time, Louie has a website dedicated to documenting his life and work.  

Because of our guests we have a few Louie Gottschalk CDs in the mail that I can listen to while I sweep up around the house.  I'm sure Tammie the Housekeeper will be delighted to listen to them, too.  Whenever I play anything that isn't Louie Armstrong, Tammie the Housekeeper refers to it as "longhair music."

Interestingly, when Louie Gottschalk was in Europe he wrinkled his nose at composers who wouldn't get a proper haircut.  He had this to say about Franz Liszt's students: "There was no romantic who did not wear his hair long and there are today some who have none of Liszt's talents except the hair."  In his day, Liszt was known as the typical longhair bohemian, par excellence.
Tammie the Housekeeper
Whether you have heard of the musicians or not, New Orleans has influenced music long before there was jazz.  It's a hotpot as much as a melting pot.  It's a gumbo pot.  I haven't even mentioned Professor Longhair, who is famous in these parts.  There is even a park named after him.

Come on down and see what I mean.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Old Time New Orleans Transportation

Pickup truck outside Castellon Pharmacy
We were in Carrollton the other day for lunch.  Carrollton is on the other side of New Orleans from us.  It used to be the capitol of Jefferson Parish, which is the parish right next to Orleans Parish.  

We don't go to Castellon Pharmacy, which is in Carrollton, because, to be honest, it's just too far away.  It's owned and operated by a registered pharmacist instead of a national conglomerate chain, which is a plus in my book, but we have a pharmacy around the corner from us that is likewise owned and operated by registered pharmacists.  They're the nicest pharmacists you'll ever meet. 

What caught my eye at Castellon Pharmacy was the old pickup truck parked in the lot.  It wasn't the only old car there, either.  There was another one.
Truck parked on Oak Street, New Orleans
I don't think these are delivery trucks.  I have no idea why they were parked where they were.  It was just one of those things that you happen to see when you travel around New Orleans.  It wasn't ordinary, but there was nothing out of the ordinary, either.  Something went wrong with this world when they stopped making auto bodies out of wood.

It was like seeing a streetcar, which is how plenty of people get around town.
New Orleans streetcar
The St. Charles Avenue streetcars were built in the 1920s.  They're still running.  There's no reason to replace them.  They aren't quick, but nothing in New Orleans is speedy.  The St. Charles line runs along the most beautiful street in the city.  When people ask me what's the one thing I think they should do, I tell them they should take the St. Charles streetcar.  We live on a beautiful street, but it is only the second most beautiful street in New Orleans.  I am forced to admit it: St. Charles Avenue is the most beautiful street.

So, anyhow, I started out saying we went to Carrollton for lunch.  Here's the panoramic view out the window from the booth we were sitting in:

View of Carrollton Ave, New Orleans
Carrollton Avenue is a pretty street, too, but it isn't as beautiful as St. Charles Ave. and it isn't as beautiful as Esplanade Ave., either.  I'm biased, but Frau Schmitt agrees with me and she is usually right about these things.

We live in a beautiful city that's full of surprises.  Someday, we hope you'll have a chance to see it for yourself.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Best Snow Balls in New Orleans

Plans for our dining room
It's a new year and changes are afoot at the inn.  We like to keep improving on things.  Never a dull moment.  I can't reveal too much at this point, but I can tell you that we've just installed new display cabinets in the lobby---we are constructing a museum in the lobby.  Don't ask too many questions, when you check in you'll see what we mean.  You'll be speechless.

We also have some plans for Les Fleurs Suite.  That project may take a bit longer because your humble narrator is going to have to spend a lot of time out in Cajun Country, which means out in the swamp.  I don't go to the swamp often because I'm allergic to alligators and snakes, but I love what we do so I'll do what it takes.

That's my promise to you.
7 days a week
If you want to know where the best snow balls in town are, well, that's subjective matter.  Snow balls are a seasonal business, a lot of places aren't open in the winter.  I think Baby's Snack Box is open, but they sell nachos and hot dogs as well as snow balls.  They sell other things, too.  I like going to Baby's but I don't like going to the other side of town.

I was on Plum Street the other day when I saw the sign above.  Unfortunately, it's winter and Plum Street Snow Balls isn't open right now.  A lot of people around town swear Plum Street Snow Balls are the best.  
Plum Street Snow Balls
When I go Uptown, which isn't as often as I would like, I tend to go to Snow Wizard or to Hansen's Sno-Bliz.  More people know about the snow ball stands Uptown than the ones that are Downtown, but that doesn't mean the one's Downtown are less good, only that they're less famous.  

The same is true about B&Bs.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Restaurants in Our New Orleans Neighborhood

Entrance to Armstrong Park (at night)
In no particular order except for proximity to our boutique New Orleans bed and breakfast inn, here are the restaurants that are located within a mile and half of our house.  Some of them are world-famous.  Some are nationally famous.  Some are locally famous.  Some of them have a dedicated clientele but no one else knows about them.  Some of them are romantic while others of them are dives.  All of them are good or I wouldn’t be telling you about them.  Here they are, complete with links if you're interested:

That's 22 options.  There are more; these are just the ones I thought of off the top of my head.  I didn’t mention anything on Frenchmen Street, though that’s within the specified range.  I didn’t list any takeout places, only sit down restaurants.  Some of these you’ve heard of.  Some, you haven’t.  It’s very hard to have a bad meal in New Orleans the same way it is very hard to be bored.  Poke around and explore off the beaten path.  You won’t go hungry or dissatisfied.

I didn't list any takeout crawfish places.  Why?  Because I don't want to encourage you to stink up the house by eating boiled crawfish in your suite.  If you want to try boiled crawfish in season, try Cajun Seafood on Claiborne Avenue.  You can eat in there.  

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Friday, January 9, 2015

New Orleans Train Station: Union Station

New Orleans Train Station
Yep, the train station in the largest city in the South at the time it was built is called Union Passenger Terminal.  How many cities have a Union Station?  Probably just as many that had trains visiting them regularly.  It isn't the greatest name.  By New Orleans standards it's really rather dull.  I would have preferred Destiny Station, or Humanity Station.  

I wasn't alive at the time, though, not that anyone in charge would have asked me anyway.  They could have had a contest, though, like they did when they named the Pelicans.

I was going to put a picture of the Pelicans logo here, but they're a member of the NBA and it's licensed.  I don't want to pay a fee.

The New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal (that's an example of a little keyword stuffing there), was built in the 1950s.  It's a rather interesting story of how it got built and why, but we don't have the space here to go into the details.  What this post is about is the murals in the waiting area.  Get ready...
Mural in the New Orleans train station
I think the artist was depressed or schizophrenic.  When I walk through the main concourse of the New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal, I get the heebie-jeebies.  
Another mural in the New Orleans train station
I don't know who approved these.  A committee that didn't care, perhaps.  They aren't very welcoming.  I'm not going to zoom into any details.  Everyone depicted looks either like they're in pain or they're going to suffer a nervous breakdown.  Hey, modern art!
One of the more nonsensical mural in the New Orleans train station
Most of the themes depict periods in New Orleans history, complete with lynchings, murders, and an overall air of anxiety.  In some ways, it's a relief from the usual jaunty Mardi Gras maskers and bug-eyed Louis Armstrong portraits, but not that welcome.  I, for one, would prefer something a little more upbeat.  Everyone looks sick and hungover.  It isn't art for the queasy.
Mural depicting death in the New Orleans train station
Welcome to New Orleans, folks!  I think a total of three trains arrive every day, and three trains depart.  I took a picture of the posted train schedule, which is made of press on letters like you see outside a hotel conference room.  
Schedule in New Orleans Union Station
No clacking signs being updated as the trains come and go.  It's pretty quiet in there.  Just as well.  I feel sorry for the Amtrak agents who have to work there.  Then again, they get to look at posters like this, which I think is very nice:
City of New Orleans poster
Hey!  There's Louis Armstrong!  You can buy that poster from Amtrak if you want to.  It's only ten dollars, which is a very nice price.  

Well, that's all I have to say about the train station.  Tune in next time and I'll be adding to my reviews of the New Orleans Wax Museum.  I know I keep saying that.  It's my way of building suspense.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Best Oysters in New Orleans

A house in downtown New Orleans
In New Orleans, "downtown" is downriver of Canal Street.  "Uptown" is the other side of Canal Street.  Every street changes its name when it crosses Canal Street.  Sometimes it's as simple as South Galvez Street becoming North Galvez Street.  Other times, it becomes as complicated as Bourbon Street becoming Carondolet Street.  We actually have to talk about Carondolet Street fairly often.  It's where the first stop on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar is.  It can get confusing.

What most people call Downtown is actually called the CBD, which is shorthand for Central Business District.  That seems to be Louisiana shorthand.  I've seen signs for the Metarie CBD, and the Mandeville CBD, and the Pontchatoula CBD.  It must make visitors to Pontchatoula (Strawberry Capitol of the World) scratch their heads, because the only business conducted in downtown Pontchatoula year round is the sale of antiques in some dusty storefronts (no offense to the good people of Pontchatoula intended, of course).
Union Station, New Orleans, LA
A lot of people ask me for directions while I'm out on my daily errands.  Some people say your humble narrator has an honest face.  I was walking past the train station (uptown) the other day when a guy with a map asked me where Sedgley is.  I assumed he meant Sedgley Street, which is a street I've never heard of.

"According to this map," he said, "Sedgley is right between Wolverhampton and Dudley."  

"I've never heard of any of those streets and I know a lot of street names," I said.  I do, too.  I've been reading Hope and New Orleans, A History of Crescent City Street Names by Sally Asher.  It's an interesting book, along the lines of Frenchmen, Desire, Godchildren...and Other New Orleans Streets by John Chase.  

Something seemed fishy about what this guy was looking for so I asked to take a look at the map he was holding.  No wonder.  It was a map of the English West Midlands.  You never know who you're going to meet in New Orleans.  I told him it was too far to walk to Sedgley, but I did know where the best oysters in town are.

The best oysters in New Orleans are at Casamento's.  It's uptown, on Magazine Street just before Napoleon Avenue.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Krewe de Jean d'Arc Parade 2015

Saint Joan of Arc
In case you didn't know, and most people outside New Orleans don't know this, the Mardi Gras season starts on January 6, which falls on this next Tuesday this year.  

Two parades open the Mardi Gras season.  One of them is the Phunny Phorty Phellows, which began as a Mardi Gras Krewe in 1878.  The Phellows ride the St. Charles Avenue streetcar to announce the beginning of the season.

Seven years ago, the Krewe de Jean d'Arc was formed to parade on Joan of Arc's birthday, which happens to also be January 6.  That's why there are two parades now to usher in the season.  Here's a video of last year's Joan of Arc parade:

We would like to direct your attention to this video to just after 1:09 in its presentation.  The whole thing captures the spirit of the parade, which, if you're in town, you should catch.  

Frau Schmitt and your humble narrator have a special place in their hearts for the Krewe de Jean d'Arc, as well as for Saint Joan herself.  Whenever we pass the Joan of Arc statue at the beginning of the French Market, we stop to admire it.
Side of the Tic Toc Cafe, Metarie, LA
We'll only be half full on January 6th.  Like I say, few people know that Mardi Gras starts then.  That's too bad, but in some ways, it's good.  For the people who are here and they're in the French Quarter, it's an unexpected delight.  Most things in New Orleans are an unexpected delight.

We hope we'll see you there.

À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast.
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